What a brilliantly written, well executed short story.
And it's free. This cements Lisa Henry's status as a very talented and versatile writer.
I want Miller's story next.....
The following discussion is spoilerish. I'm not giving away the specifics of the plot, but the content may still best be read after you finish reading it yourself.
What follows is an exploration of the power of one word.
After reading the story, I was surprised to find some reviewers referred to the ending as HFN (Happy for Now). Apparently “The Last Rebellion” was written to a story prompt which called for that.
The author herself has admitted the ending is ambiguous.
It all hinges around the two letter word: “it”
“Rho never saw it coming.”
But what is “it”?
Is it a positive outcome, something good happening in his life?
Or is it, his death?
Either outcome is possible and neither is "correct".
It’s the question of which the reader chooses that becomes interesting.
Pronouns have power. Our editors urge us to eliminate “it” from our manuscripts purely because of this ambiguity. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pointed this out when editing or beta’ing.
Most times, the author knows exactly what the word refers to, but because of other nouns used nearby, that may not be as obvious to the reader who has to pause and work “it” out.
Sometimes, the author may wish to leave this ambiguity in place, like I suspect Lisa Henry has done here.
Both variants can lead to sequels. In one, the couple would have to find ways that they can be together even though they are on different sides of a conflict.
In the other, the survivor may come to regret his action and over time change and hopefully even find ways to redeem himself, learning his lesson that there are no winners in war.
The case can be made for both interpretations. Studying the text, analyzing character’s dialogue and inner thoughts. Hints can be seen if you want to see them.
What it does expose is how much of the reader’s own personalities, experiences and wishes go into their interpretation. Those who want a happy ending will sometimes ignore the bits that don’t fit into this box. And vice versa. Is it the glass half full/glass half empty divide? Is it readers looking for or expecting a certain grittiness of a particular author?
Even though this is a gay fiction short story, I believe it is just as worth studying on these lines from an academic literary point of view. There is no reason why mm romances have to be light and fluffy. No reason why authors can’t test boundaries and try different literary styles. As long as they know what they are doing and why they are doing it.
I’d like to think there are enough intelligent readers out there to appreciate a story based on its craft and style as much as the plot and characters.
I’d be interested in hearing from other readers. What’s your take on that line? What does “it” stand for?
[Here's my interpretation. Miller kills/executes Rho. Probably by snapping his neck. Rho didn't see his death coming.
Why? Because Miller's primary motive was to break Rho whichever way he could. He recognised Rho had been trained to or was, by his nature, able to withstand normal interrogation techniques.
Miller wanted to see if he could use kindness or at least appeal to other needs Rho had. Once Rho had submitted, Miller knew he had "broken" him and the experiment was over. Underlying that was a fatalistic recognition that Rho had no future. Miller had already prevented his execution once (probably by a gunshot to the head while bound and hooded never seeing or experiencing freedom or sunshine again). The usual fate of prisoners who were no longer needed. To Miller, at least Rho found peace and did not die in fear.
Let's look at the other interpretation. Rho never saw a "positive outcome" coming. Could Miller have gone AWOL and kept Rho at his farm?
Possibly, but why have that sentence in there at all? Remember we are in Rho's head at this point in time. Wouldn't the verb have been "happening"? and why place this at the end of the story. It's an omniscient viewpoint and would more likely have occurred earlier before we are shown how "good" it is. In fact, the story could have simply ended with "And it's good.
Personally, I felt the tragic ending suited the situation even though I felt gutted after.
But I could picture Miller doing it almost out of kindness and Rho's death would haunt him ever after. Where could he go from there? Could he ever redeem himself or would he see his soul forever tainted with that stain?" (hide spoiler)]